Debilitating fear from a secret trauma keeps nineteen year old Claryn Anderson from ever accepting a second date. To placate her best friend’s worries, however, Claryn agrees to three dates with an alluring stranger, Justice Cain, who has an uncanny sense for when to give her more space. When Claryn begins to hope to overcome her fears, she discovers Justice has a secret as well.
Meanwhile, dangers multiply in her hometown, and missing young women are just the beginning of a growing menace that threatens both the sparks of Claryn’s romance and her very life.
Under darkness on the outskirts of Tulsa, Derrick Adams pumped another shell into the chamber of his shotgun and cursed as he approached the figure writhing in pain on the hard packed dirt that served as the parking lot of the Copperhead Bar. “Damnable game.” The bitter taste in Adam’s mouth was from disbelief that the scrawny punk on the ground with the big belt-buckled Wranglers was chosen for immortality when Adams was not.
Checking for stragglers and satisfied they were alone, Adams turned back and blasted another round of his homemade mercury-filled shot into the punk’s chest. He grinned over the pain he inflicted, enjoying the wheezing, gasping and scratching as the boy creature tried to claw away his own skin to rid it of the liquid metal burning through his flesh in dozens of places.
“I’m not what you think,” the creature choked out, “I’m not a killer.”
“Unfortunately for you,” Adams spat, “I am.” He leered and kicked at its head. “What have you got that I don’t?”
Certain the vampire was beyond fighting back, Adams dragged it over to his blue 1982 Ford F-150 truck. He hoisted his prize over the tailgate before tearing up the accumulated dust of the day’s windstorm from the highway with his wheels. Adams intended to drain as many syringes of blood from the creature as possible before leaving the thing to burn in the coming dawn.
By then Adams would be back on the computer playing the game that started all this madness, the web hosted ultra-game Mission 2B Immortal. He would scour all the postings linked to a fellow player named Live4ever. The persona claimed that the ultimate payout to those who triumphed over every level of the game, as Adams had, was recruitment for an immortal life. Most players considered the posts a marketing ploy, but there were true believers, like Derrick Adams, who diligently worked two long years to win and then be denied his rightfully earned reward. I will get what I’m owed or kill ’em all, he thought. Someone mistook me for a fool, and they will pay dearly. On the warpath, Adam’s new mission possessed him more than even the game. Sporting a sneer, he gripped the steering wheel. It wasn’t immortality he had coming to him, he knew better than that. But it was the closest thing this side of the ever after and “By hell, I earned it.”
If injecting all the creature’s blood into his own system didn’t work, Adams already had his own web-based recruitment program to form a team of vampire slayers. His ulterior motive was still to find a way to take his reward, but his fellow slayers needn’t know they would end up as his first meal.
On the hunt for an altogether different sort of female, Justice Cain caught his brother looking longingly after a trio of co-eds decked out for a night on the town. The reflection of the lights from the downtown bars and restaurants on Albuquerque’s rain-wet street mirrored each other in the same hazy way Chess’s eyes reflected how hard it was even after two years to be on the fresh-blood wagon. Chess with his dark Italian ancestry still dressed for the scene in black jeans, a trendy button up shirt, and a fitted black leather sport coat while Justice’s cargo pants, Henley, and worn rain gear plainly expressed his lack of interest in the surroundings. Justice was strictly business as he stalked the streets for the third night running.
A recent series of disappearances and deaths made Chess cancel a trip north to hunt with his younger brother. The most recent report said the victim, Dale Mitchell, age 28 of Los Cruces, New Mexico, was last seen coming out of Club Durango in the company of two young women. Copies of other less public reports obtained by their northern neighbor noted the victim’s unaccountable pre-mortem blood loss. There were also inconsistent accounts of a bouncer, who said the victim was clearly intoxicated, and the bartender, who swore he had served the man nothing stronger than soda.
“There she is,” Justice nodded toward a couple coming out of the Cadillac Lounge further down on the left. The man was tall with the well-dressed look of a business traveler. His companion, with her sweeping brunette curls, form fitting dress and stilettos, resembled a music video dancer. The brothers tailed the couple up the wide brick sidewalk past mimosa tree planters. They weaved in and out of occasional pedestrians intent on other nightly activities. Their quarry led them to the upscale Regency Hotel where they entered the thickly carpeted brass gilded lobby almost on their heels.
Too close, Justice realized belatedly. The female turned her head as if catching the pleasant whiff of a nearby bakery. She honed in on Chess and Justice.
Her twinkling eyes raked over them, and then she smiled flirtatiously whispering into her companion’s ear and knowing the two brothers could hear her from across a crowded room if they chose. “My sister and I like to share everything. The more the merrier we always say.” She threw Chess and Justice a wink, then arm in arm she led her doomed companion into the hotel bar. A step across the threshold, Chess stopped short and placed a restraining hand on his brother’s arm.
“What?” Justice’s flared with characteristic frustration at distractions from mission.
“I can’t do this.”
Justice stared at his brother, mouth dropping open. He stepped aside and pointedly crossed his arms, waiting for an explanation. None was forth coming, only Chess’s pained and slightly embarrassed posture. Justice turned and saw the couple at the bar meeting with another woman whose face was blocked from view by a mirrored column. The mirror cast Justice’s own hard reflection back at him. He turned from it quickly.
What had he expected? His brother had never been a hunter. A lover not a fighter, Justice thought, and not even that. Chess engendered love, made a marvelous game of it. That game usually concluded not long after he got a hold of what he needed to carry him through till his next diversion. Chess never violated the letter of Consortia Laws, one of which forbade taken blood, he was far too smart for that, but he certainly broke the spirit of them. After his last relationship ended so badly, Chess finally acquiesced to his brother’s appeals to live a more honest life, one that might even be a benefit.
Finally giving in to Justice, Chess made repeated trips north to learn to hunt from their elder, Arvon. Chess’s unique abilities lie in tracking rather than fighting. He returned home after each trip presumably adjusting well to his new lifestyle. A hunt like the one tonight should be easy for someone trained by Arvon, Justice thought. Maybe hunting with me is throwing him off.
Shoving his short sandy bangs off his forehead, Justice bit back a belittling rebuke and made a matter-of-fact appeal. “Chess. The wild ones gorge themselves on frequent always deadly sprees. Never make nor take. That’s the foundation of our code. Remember? These two kill with no care and will reproduce without caution or permission. It’s intolerable, and they are beyond reform.”
“This,” Justice pointed toward the bar, “this, is what we do. It’s how you live now, and it is the high road, it’s better even if it’s more difficult.” Justice caught himself and attempted an appeal instead of a lecture, saying with control, “And tonight, with two of them, we’re safer together.”
Chess shook his head vehemently turning away from Justice. Justice swore and leaned over far enough to view the man, rhapsodic, taking the room key from the black haired beauty. Chess wanted to have his brother’s back, he very much wanted to.
“I should have told you last night when we picked up their scent. I suspected then. There was just too much death taint to be sure. Did you see the sister?’
“No.” Justice stole a look around the mirrors and saw her at the same time Chess spoke her name.
Justice jerked his head back out of sight, reevaluating the entire situation in moment. Jenny was Chess’s latest and greatest failed attempt to make Cain’s coven of two more of a family. For Chess, it might not have been true love, but it was truly something. Now the sister’s words to her victim and the brothers were ironic. Jenny did like to share; she liked to share everything with anybody who took her fancy.
The trio at the bar slid off their stools, the man trailing the beautiful women who sauntered with their arms around each other’s waists. The sister whispered in Jenny’s ear as they approached the entrance. Jenny shook her head then warily watched Chess and Justice from across the room, the one uncertain and conflicted, the other focused and defiant. She pulled the man up to her side between the sisters like a shared shield as she headed to the bank of elevators in the rear lobby.
In the foyer, the brothers stared as the elevator doors closed, and Justice watched to see where it would stop. Jenny obviously gorged so often and so deeply that the death taint inherent in even the healthiest human’s blood now flowed behind her like a contrail of disease. Unfortunately the time it would take for the death taint to kill Chess’s ex-wife was too long to wait. Four or five decades of mayhem and chaos were beyond the bounds and she had already sired another.
Justice rested a hand on his anguished brother’s shoulder. “I can handle this. You go north. Arvon is expecting you.”
Chess nodded trying to thank his brother with his eyes for being willing to put down another of Chess’s mistakes. Justice was already in mission mode again.
Justice charged the stairs to the eighth floor and found the fourth door on the right standing open a few inches. He cautiously peered inside and saw the woman Jenny had remade. Obviously a newer wild one, she crouched over her now unconscious victim. The beautiful brunette gazed up at him curiously, but without fear or comprehension.
Justice looked around, where was Jenny? Behind the wild one sheer curtains billowed in the breeze from the room’s balcony. Could she have left that way? Alert, Justice inspected the possible hiding places for Jenny even though his nose told him she was no longer nearby.
Confident there wasn’t a man alive or undead who could resist her charms, the dark beauty began flirting with him. “Jenny said you weren’t the type to share, but then I have so much more to share than she does.” She pushed her dress off one shoulder and flipped her hair out to the other side revealing more of her smooth skin. “Do you like what you see?” She ran the side of one hand down her bare throat across her chest and between her breasts before letting it drop beside her in a gesture of open invitation.
Justice stood firm though his mind wandered to another young woman whose soft creamy skin once pressed against his own before he left her unprotected along with his parents and sisters to answer the call of “Viva la France!” Over two hundred years passed, yet her memory stirred him. Thirst wasn’t the only drive he always kept in strict control. Challenges one conquered, he told himself. Sometimes, though, it was pure deprivation.
The female perceived indecision and appreciation. She sashayed over to him, laid her hands flat on his chest and leaned close, her ruby lipstick the color of the blood that freshly scented her mouth. “I’m Candy. What’s your name?”
“You’ve broken the laws, Candy.” The urge to ball his hand up in her hair and have at more than her throat tried to rise and was immediately punched down. He focused on the scent of tainted blood and death wondering how many humans she killed to smell this way and why a vampire did not pass the taint on to others of their kind. At least one drive would be satiated tonight.
He shook his head at her. “I’ve come to bring you to justice.”
She scowled as she shoved him away violently and made for the balcony only to find his arms surrounding like banded steel. Her eyes went wild with rage, and for scant seconds she hissed and tore uselessly at his face. Under his bite, her struggles soon lost their intensity and slowed to scant sleepy-like movements, but Justice drained her into oblivion. Efficiently done, he dropped the lifeless and surprisingly light husk of a body to the floor beside her unconscious victim who now had more blood left in him than she did.
Copyright© Kristin King. All rights reserved.